Are You Ready for Contextual Discovery?

For most of our recent digital lives, when you or your customers want to find something – information, directions, news, products, etc. – you have “searched” for it. You go to Google, you type something in, and you go about your day. Think of this as “pulling” – you’re pulling the information you need out of the web.

We are very rapidly moving towards a push model of information discovery, however, and the impacts on businesses (and citizens, of course) could not be more profound.

Within the next 1-3 years, Google, Apple, and Amazon will use devices and databases to learn what individuals want, like and need and predictively provide that information to them. Google is already doing this in a limited way with their Google Now service. Others are racing to catch up.

The goal for Google, et. al. is to deliver to the user the right information at the right time, in the right context.

Robert Scoble has written a terrific book about contextual discovery. In the video included above, he talks with Mark Johnson, the CEO of news aggregator Zite. Ostensibly, the 50-minute video is about the future of news. But I’m sharing this video because the two of them spend a lot of time talking about the future of contextual discovery. If you are a business owner, I think you can watch this video and see dozens of ways that your business could provide information and context to potential and existing customers.

So think of this as a seed to help you begin thinking about laying the groundwork.

But more practically, the business takeaway from this video is that you should be giving Google as much, high-quality information as you can. This is already important, as Google already dominates search – the pull sector. But if, in fact, they are working on a ‘contextual operating system’ for their wearable devices (like the past and future Google Glass), then you need to be sure to be ready to provide them with the push part of the information too.

So right now? Make sure you invest in, build out appropriate listing pages for Google, Bing, Yelp, etc. Even if you don’t have a lot of customers there, the more high-quality information you can give to companies – (esp. Google) – including information that anticipates context of your customer, the more ahead of the game you will be.

And if nothing else, keep your ear tuned to this area of development. Wearable and contextually-sensitive devices like Apple Watch, Microsoft Band, Google Glass, etc have the potential to revolutionize how we all interact with our world.


Leave a comment

The Facebook Free Ride is Over

It was good while it lasted.

If you are a business/organization/nonprofit/brand who has a presence (a Page) on Facebook, you’ve noticed a curious trend over the past few months. Namely, your posts haven’t been reaching as many of your followers as they used to. In fact, for many of you, your posts are lucky to reach 20% of your followers.


For much of the past few years, Facebook told you “Hey, it’s your fault – you’re not producing engaging content.” All the while, you might have had a sneaking suspicion that what was really happening was that Facebook was algorithmically changing the game so that you’d be forced to pay to “Boost” your post, or purchase ads.

Well the jig is up – Facebook is finally owning up to the fact that they have, in fact, been de-prioritizing your content, and that you now need to pay to reach your followers. AdAge.com is reporting that Facebook sales materials to large partners bluntly say:

 “We expect organic distribution of an individual page’s posts to gradually decline over time as we continually work to make sure people have a meaningful experience on the site.”

So all of those years you invested in building your Facebook presence are wasted, right?

Not at all. It just means you need to think differently about what Facebook is, and what you can do with it.

From Flipboard, to Medium, as well as many other social networks and online properties – an interesting paradigm shift is underway. In order to monetize activity, they’ve had to develop business models that very closely resemble magazines. Instead of “writers”, their users  are producing/sharing/curating content, and the trick is now to get brands to purchase ads on these networks in order to reach their “subscribers” (aka users/readers).

Sound familiar? Of course it does. In the print media world, buy ads in magazines in order to reach the eyeballs of readers who subscribe or buy the magazine. If Facebook and other online properties are seeing themselves as magazines or newspapers, then our primary question needs to be:

Are my customers using/reading this magazine?

For many brands, the answer is a resounding YES. If we had never heard of Facebook before today and some approached your marketing team and asked them if you’d be interested in purchasing highly-targeted, demographically-selectable, interest-focused, brand-linked advertising online, on a site whose users average more than hour a day, you’d give it serious consideration.

And so the the shift I encourage all brands to make is just that. Think of Facebook as a paid advertising channel – with some unique and highly desirable characteristics.  You still need to produce plenty of engaging and relevant unpaid content in order to keep your most engaged fans connected. But when you have a very specific action/sale/goal you want to pursue that syncs up with Facebook’s users/readers, then take the next step and plan an ad strategy around it.

So the free ride may be over, but it’s not time to get off of the bus quite yet. Now you just have to be a bit more serious and goal-oriented.

Get on it!

Leave a comment

How Search is Changing

Leave a comment

Should Your Business Be On Twitter?

The minute Twitter announced its initial public offering, the media began frothing with myriad angles on the past/present/future of the venerable social network.

It’s a testament to the power of media that during the virtually ever since, I get weekly inquiries from businesses panicking that they are not “on Twitter.” After all, everyone’s talking about Twitter. Hastags are popping up everywhere on TV, and EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT TWITTER.

So should your business be on Twitter?

The easy answer to this is “are your customers on Twitter?

That’s it.

If the answer is yes, then listen, learn, and develop a plan for engagement on Twitter. If the answer is no, then move along. And this advice applies to just about every social network.

There is one important caveat to this advice, however.

The impact of mobile devices, and mobile discovery of information (think of how you search for things on your smartphones) means that search and social network are becoming more and more intertwined. So I’d pay close to attention to anything the major search providers do in terms of linking search with social networks. For instance, while very few non-tech folks are actively using Google Plus as a social network, Google is baking this “identity layer” into all of its products. So if you search for anything on Google, who you are connected to is becoming just as important as what you are searching for. Same with Bing (who partners with Facebook). Apple uses multiple providers, including Yelp and Twitter.

So from a social network perspective, focus on your customer. From a search or discovery perspective, it makes sense to understand how your customers are looking for information, and to make sure you are partnering with those services and tools to ensure your information is available to searchers.

Leave a comment

Breaking Bad: America’s Walter White Problem

Leave a comment

It’s Not You, It’s Me

I once worked with a nonprofit executive director who kept chiding me to get out of the way.

He wasn’t referring to my physical presence – he was referring to my storytelling. Coming from a traditional marketing background, I wanted to talk about ALL OF THE GREAT THINGS our nonprofit was doing. As a former editor and publisher, he knew that the more important, more inspiring stories lay outside our own organization in the people and communities we served.

Of course, he was absolutely correct. It took me a while to understand and internalize this “ego-less” communication. But wow is it powerful.

I was reminded of this recently when reading John Haydon, who writes about nonprofit social media strategy. He wrote a smart post recently titled “The One Simple Facebook Mistake Most Nonprofits Make.” His take? Get your supporters talking about the cause, instead of you talking about the nonprofit.

A few thoughts about organizations “broadcasting” vs. “engaging:”

  1. Broadcasting is seductive. We all want a megaphone. But think about your own communication consumption – do you routinely pay attention to megaphone brands? Probably not. So if your org/biz is doing the same thing, why would you expect others to pay attention?
  2. Getting out of your way and focusing on communicating the stories and causes that live outside yourself applies to any business  – not just nonprofits.
  3. If you can’t communicate your “cause” – no amount of social media or marketing communications will help you. You have to be crystal clear here so that are encouraging and activating the type of engagement that directly contributes to your program/product/service.
  4. If you don’t have a “cause” that inspires you – that matters – your battle is already lost. After all, if you aren’t passionate about what you’re doing, how can you expect others to be? Fix that.

So start with the problem your solving. Be clear with yourself your mission and vision. Be passionate about it. And then start talking about the folks around you – donors/buyers/evangelizers – who share and live your cause.

After all, their stories are more interesting than yours…



1 comment

Facebook & Google Are Moving in the Wrong Direction

Leave a comment

Photo from The Corporate Retreat

Leave a comment

Digging Deep into Gmail’s Tabbed Inbox

In 2013 Google began rolling out a ‘tabbed’ Inbox interface for Gmail. The gist of it is that Google uses send data and algorithms to determine if the email coming into Gmail is worthy of your “primary” attention (and thus placed in a tab called “Primary), or should be categorized as “Promotions” or “Social” etc.


As you might expect, companies and nonprofits who use email to communicate with their constituents grew quite alarmed. And with good reason. If a customer has opted into your email list, why should Google get to “decide” where and how its delivered?

Numerous initial reports indicate that the impact is complex and multifaceted. While businesses were fearful that open and click through rates would plummet, that hasn’t seemed to happen. It turns out that having some basic categorization might actually help users wade through email.

Danny Sullivan of Marketing Land is one of the smartest data and marketing journalists working today. He recently wrote about his own personal experience with the Tabbed Inbox. And although his piece represents a sample size of one, he has some interesting insights:

  • HTML vs. plain text emails don’t seem to impact where your email gets “tabbed.”
  • It may the be case that Google is using “unsubscribe” links – which are generally industry best-practice – as signals to place an email in the dreaded “Promotions” tab.
  • Google might be giving a break to known non-profits.
  •  The “Social” tab might be a clever way for businesses and nonprofits with robust social strategies to reach constituents.

Leave a comment

The next decade will be about protecting

Leave a comment

← Older posts